Nearly 30 electric cooperative professionals in cybersecurity, information systems and operational technology from across the country converged at Idaho National Laboratory recently and came away with plans and projects to capitalize on their power of collaboration.

NRECA organized three days of tours, workshops and information-sharing sessions with 20 high-level staff from the Department of Energy's national lab for its co-op member advisory groups (MAGs) on cybersecurity and distributed energy resources. This was the first joint venture by the two MAGs.

Attendees learned about cybersecurity advancements and innovations in resilient control systems, electric vehicles and battery technologies. They experienced a microgrid test bed and watched simulated cyberattacks on chemical plants, gas pipelines and distribution substations.

Brainstorming among the groups and INL staff led to four potential collaborative projects involving battery storage, microgrids, cybersecurity training and a rural energy technology center, said Lauren Khair, NRECA's director of business transformation.

“Co-op staff attending the workshops walked away with tangible next steps to secure funding for these projects," she said. “We also were able to identify specific areas where we can work with INL."

Participants hailed the partnership between NRECA and INL as significant for their co-ops' growing cybersecurity needs.

“As we, the security leaders for cooperatives, strive to improve our security stance, it's imperative that we have resources like the INL, who are forward-thinking and able to provide the foundational research needed to grow our security plans," said Leah Olson, supervisor, business security and IT support at Great Lakes Energy in Boyne City, Michigan.

“It's exciting to see the INL developing hands-on projects to help the cooperatives increase their OT and IT cyber resilience," added Jon Watkins, manager of information services at Pioneer Electric based in Piqua, Ohio.

NRECA's MAGs are volunteer-driven groups made up of diverse staff with varying skills from distribution co-ops and generation and transmission co-ops.

“I can't say enough good things about the member advisory program at NRECA and the staff's tireless efforts to ensure cooperative security needs are being represented in the research and vendor communities," said Marc Child, director of information security assurance for Great River Energy based in Maple Grove, Minnesota.

Kyle Kavanagh, IT coordinator at Lower Yellowstone REC in Sidney, Montana, summed up the July meeting as “one of the best ever" by his MAG at a national lab.

“The future of our grid security and reliability will come from collaborating with our national laboratories," he said.

Ryan Newlon, NRECA Cybersecurity MAG lead and cyber solution principal, helped organize and facilitate the July 11-13 meeting at the lab and the projects it spawned for the MAGs.

“By coming together as one team, we can and will overcome some of the most challenging issues in our space," said Newlon. “We couldn't do it without the collective efforts of INL and our cooperatives' wisdom, guidance and willingness to engage. We look forward to working together as the projects advance."

Explore NRECA's resources on cybersecurity and DER.